Coalition's emerging nuclear policy

May 12, 2010 | 00:00

Coalition's emerging nuclear policy

The UK is set to have pro-nuclear policies delivered by an anti-nuclear politician as the details of a post-election coalition agreement are revealed.

After the formal resignation of Gordon Brown yesterday evening it fell to Queen Elizabeth II to ask David Cameron of the Conservatives to form the next government and assume the position of prime minister. Shortly afterwards, Cameron completed a coalition deal with Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and the UK had its first coalition government in 70 years. David Cameron is now prime minister and Nick Clegg is deputy prime minister.

Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne is expected to be the incoming head of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Huhne has made many statements against nuclear energy in the past, calling it "a tried, tested and failed technology" that he would reject. The Lib Dems call for the pouring of public money into renewables and their supply chain in "a commitment to 100 per cent carbon free, non-nuclear electricity by 2050." Working underneath Huhne will likely be a Conservative minister specifically for energy.

Despite this position, the coalition agreement negotiated over the last five days brought relief to nuclear industry observers by essentially continuing the unfinished work of the Labour government.

"Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new national planning statement) and provided also that they receive no public subsidy.

We have agreed a process that will allow Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power while permitting the government to bring forward the national planning statement for ratification by parliament so that new nuclear construction becomes possible.

This process will involve:

  • The government completing the drafting of a national planning statement and putting it before parliament;
  • Specific agreement that a Liberal Democrat spokesman will speak against the planning statement, but that Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain; and
  • Clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence."

Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations,
Agreements reached, 11 May 2010

This means that nuclear issues before parliament and the crucial planning statement would be easily approved with Conservative and Labour support. How long this arrangement will continue in the coalition is unknown, as is the lifespan of the unusual coalition itself, but in the short term nuclear development should be able to continue as planned.

The UK power sector had been hoping for a continuation of arrangements set up by the previous government, which has resulted in plans for some 16,000 MWe in new capacity over the next 10-15 years. This is more than enough to replace retiring reactors and establish nuclear at over 25% of supply. The previous policy was to 'facilitate' private investment in nuclear power without subsidising it or setting either targets or limits on capacity.

Would-be nuclear builders, notably Electricité de France, had been calling for a predictable price for carbon dioxide emissions preferably in the form of a flat rate per tonne and also hoping for reform of the Climate Change Levy (CCL) that unfairly taxes nuclear along with carbon emitting sources. The agreement provides for "the provision of a floor price for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning of ETS permits." It also "mandates for an recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles" and announces support for carbon capture projects, marine energy and enhanced renewables targets.

On disarmament, the Conservative policy of replacing the Trident missiles that would deliver the UK's strategic nuclear weapons has remained, with Lib Dem ideas to investigate alternatives downgraded to close scrutiny on costs. The new foreign minister will be former Conservative leader William Hague.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

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